When people meet you online it is similar to meeting you in person for the first time. They want to understand you and do it fairly quickly. What they are understanding is your persona, a sense of who you are that is communicated in a kind of shorthand. Every celebrity does a lot of work on his or her persona. You may not be able to put it into words, but you just have a sense about who Kanye West is, or Hillary Clinton, or Sylvester Stallone. They each have a persona that speaks to you instantly.
When I work with companies and clients on persona building, our work goes online. We know that customers, clients and friends will discover the persona first on a website, portfolio, social media, or in a blog. Stay tuned: In a moment I will be focusing on blogs.
How Do You Create an Online Persona?
Creating a recognizable online persona doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But for others, it’s just the way they roll. If you were to ask me how to do it, I would reply, “Just surrender to the force of your personality.” I’m not trying to sound like a Buddhist monk or philosopher. Your online persona is expressed by media that you put out on the web, like articles and blog posts, recordings and videos, images. They have to be expressive of who you are (or the mission statement of your company.) If you are going to go there again and again, creating media on this theme, it has to be close to who you really are, or what your company is really about. You can’t fake it. Corporatespeak won’t work.
But what kind of media? As philosopher Marshall McLuan said, the medium is the message, and when having some fun with this he also said, the medium is the massage. So if we were to massage this idea a little more, you might realize that you really like talking and not writing, so your favorite medium will be making videos or podcasts. Or you like drawing or coding, so they way you display your work and personality will be more visual.
You might say, “Well, I really like collecting things on Pinterest and retweeting what other people say on Twitter. Does that count?” No, I’d respond, it doesn’t count. Recycling what other people create doesn’t develop your persona in the way we need to do it. A Pinterest board composed entirely of old cars can inform someone of your interest in old cars, but unless you are writing really good captions, it gives them little information about you, aside from you being a good collector.
Let’s zero in on blogs as a way to show off who you are for persona building online. I’ve taken a few examples of well-known bloggers, many of whom blog every day.
An approachable VC who keeps a business diary about how he decides to invest, what markets are moving and what are not Fred Wilson’s blog shows you how he thinks, and reveals his opinions about topics beyond business, such as family, data privacy, education, and politics.
Godin has written for many years about ethical marketing, marketing with heart, and permission marketing. He believes that the people you market to must give you permission to talk to them, and me believes that the most unique messages are the ones they get through. He argues for high value interactions, offering the best quality product you can even it if means producing less. He writes every day, sometimes a short entry that is top of his mind, something something longer. He is always there for me with thought-provoking ideas.
Friedman is a magazine editor, writer, and podcaster who writes a great newsletter every week. The newsletter itself is like a blog. She is included here because she is nakedly truthful with every post and packs in more information than just about anyone else I read. Her podcasts give you an inside track on feminism. Her newsletter always begins with a paragraph about what is on her mind that day, and goes on to link to most everything that she is reading.
Kleon, an author, illustrator, designer, and public speaker, writes a blog every day as a creative exercise. His musings about writing, art and life make it clear he’s a thoughtful person with a sense of fun. He is deeply committed to being a creator and maker. Read his work, or subscribe to his newsletter, and you will instantly grasp his online persona.